Big Brother wants to track cell phones

Americans own nearly 300 million cell phones.  These ubiquitous electronic devices are used billions of times every day to make phone calls, place orders, locate destinations, pay bills, text messages, read emails, and browse the web.  In a single generation, phone books, road maps, and pay phones have been rendered virtually extinct. 

Recognizing the treasure trove of information that can be revealed by or retrieved from these devices, the federal government now wants to use our cell phones and other personal communication devices for something quite different from the purposes for which we purchase and employ these now-essential tools.

In arguments earlier this month before a federal appeals court in Philadelphia, lawyers for President Barack Obama made the case that the government should be able to easily track the location of cell phone users without first securing a warrant.  In making this argument, the Obama Administration mimics the position taken by its predecessor. 

The government’s reasoning rests largely on two pillars — one legal, the other practical — but both of which ought to be rejected by the court.

Bad guys use cell phones to communicate with each other to arrange drug deals, rob banks, and commit all manner of other crimes.  The government wants to know where these lawbreakers are — or where they have been — and one of the easiest ways to do that is to be able to track the places where they used their cell phones.  While we all want the police to apprehend those who would do us harm; there is more to the equation than simply making that often difficult task as easy as possible.   

The government also relies on the legal fiction that simply by using a cell phone, a person “consents” to a third party (their telecommunications carrier) having information from which their location can be determined.  The government then argues that the users have no “expectation of privacy” such as might entitle them to have the government obtain a warrant from a judge before it can access records of where the individuals have used, or are using, their cell phones.

Ask any group of American citizens if they consider that simply by using cell phones they are consenting to let Uncle Sam track their every movement, and the resounding “NO” would be heard from Atlanta to Capitol Hill.  Fortunately, the federal magistrate who issued the order which the administration is appealing in Philadelphia agreed with that common sense view.  The magistrate’s ruling against the government also happens to be in accord with the clear intention of our Founding Fathers, who crafted the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution.  That all-important provision protects each of us against any unreasonable search or seizure, and requires that in most instances the government first obtain a warrant based on probable cause.

These protections against the privacy-invasive position being staked out by the Department of Justice, would be rendered largely devoid of meaning if, by simply using an electronic device to communicate privately, the user opens himself to surreptitious tracking of his whereabouts by government agents.

As noted by at least one of the appellate judges before whom the government lawyer argued, permitting the government to easily and without restraint track the location of cell phone users, would reveal far more than the geographic coordinates from which a call was placed.  It might reveal the person was at an anti-government protest, or was attending a political or religious event hoping to be free from government snooping.  The person might even have been visiting a paramour with the intent not to reveal that fact to prying electronic eyes.  

Uncle Sam should not be privy to such information without a darn good reason – even if this make its job of catching criminals slightly less easy.

72 comments Add your comment

Karl Marx

February 22nd, 2010
6:09 am

Big Brother is at it again. To all those that didn’t think we make a law to punish anyone that would inject a tracking device into our body what do you have to say about this? It’s a non problem, give me a break. Big Sis is watching your back.

Joel Edge

February 22nd, 2010
6:50 am

And to make it even worse, the bad guys can just turn the phone off in critical moments. The only ones that can be tracked are the people like me who wear the thing like an appendage.


February 22nd, 2010
8:21 am

were we living in the Utopian States of America, I might think differently, but at the end of the day there is no law that says anyone must own/use a cell phone. I know, I know, it’s not fair and cell phones have become necessities, not luxuries. The Constitution has always been something of a ruse because when push comes to shove, the gub-ment will do what it must in order to maintain control. You have to love the idea that the Justice Department (responsible for enforcing the law) feels the need to violate the law in order to prosecute those who may be violating other laws. were I some ditzy ACLU-type lawer, I might argue this proposed legislation has the potential to “criminalize” cell phone ownership. And, as always, as with the Patriot Act and other “national security” legislation, this whole scam will be presented to us as “for your protection”.

3-G Glasses

February 22nd, 2010
8:24 am

Imagine cell-phone tracking during the Nixon Administration! Better yet, A really cool TV series could result by featuring some sort of hand-held communicator that beeped when you opened it and suppose it could locate the holder so they could be beamed up and away from dangerous situations….. Or wouldn’t it be great if Tiger’s Wood’s wife could glean proof from his cell phone that he was cheating with one of his beaches?

or maybe God could use it to pinpoint the location of all those he wants to rapture. Beam me up, Goddy.

Oh yeah, she did, He will, they did, and Nixon was a jerk.



February 22nd, 2010
8:51 am

So, what’s new about this?

Georgia Tech

February 22nd, 2010
8:57 am

Uncle Sam is taking OVER!! plain and simple. started with the patriot act with bush and now this!!
Gov. is lieing to us we are headed for Communism!!

Road Scholar

February 22nd, 2010
8:57 am

In Georgia, they are already tracking cell phones, but not for “legal” causes. The DOT has a contract with a cell phone provider to track vehicle travel times. How do you think they know what to post on the Interstate overhead signs as to time of travel between two locations? By tracking time of travel they can deduce whether there is an accident (cameras) and congestion levels; they plan on a revenue stream based on time of day/congestion and distances traveled in the future.

As a note they can also track a route taken, and speeds!

No More Progressives.

February 22nd, 2010
9:04 am

“No reasonable expectation of privacy,” Big Brother says.

It’s too late: the Camels nose is in the tent. Followed closely by the Chicago amatuer mob running the White House.


February 22nd, 2010
9:06 am

When Bush did this to suspected terrorists, the libs went ape. Now Obo wants to do it to everyone and not a peep from the ACLU.


February 22nd, 2010
9:18 am

As usual, 9 people will eventually decide what happens to 400 million.

If You Do This, The Terrorists Win

February 22nd, 2010
9:19 am

Given the chance, the democrats will erase more civil liberites in one term than the Republicans ever dreamed of doing.


February 22nd, 2010
9:39 am

Mabus February 22nd, 2010 8:51 am…..So, what’s new about this?

Precisely the problem…it’s not really new. We are all being slowly boiled over the last few years. Right now the water feels pretty good.

What's next for Obama?passing a law that will implant microchips in felons??

February 22nd, 2010
9:43 am

The next step is for the feds to force felons to get microchips implanted in their bodies…..which will in turn make it easier to pass a law later on that will force these chips into newborns and then underage children….Results….when babyboomers eventually die off the new generation will all be chipped….Naturally It’s for their own safety…


February 22nd, 2010
9:45 am

Obozo is an idiot, but he is winning on some fronts – one being he is still in office.
He has broken more laws in office than he did in a couple weeks when hanging with the chicagomobmachine.

Limit all US politicians to two terms.
One in office
One in prison

Illinois already does this!


February 22nd, 2010
9:50 am

Obama is in over his head just like I am in Cal-e-forn-ya….Help…!


February 22nd, 2010
9:56 am

This is about the same to me as Rep. Tom Price buying my cell phone number from Verizon and then making political calls to it. I complained vehemently to his office (only ever was able to speak to the machine and I certainly NEVER received a call back). I was very clear that if I wanted him or anyone else to have my cell phone number or any information about it, I would give it to them. BTW, they called not just once but about 5 times to both my and my husband’s cell phone to ask stupid questions that only allowed yes or no responses (obviously to get the response he wanted!!!). So for you folks calling President Obama an idiot, to be honest, you need to classify all politicians as self serving and idiots!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bargain Hunting

February 22nd, 2010
9:59 am

What’s the best cell phone plan out there now?

Bargain Hunting

February 22nd, 2010
10:02 am

Verizon has a new plan where the FBI eavesdroppers say, “can I violate your civil rights now?” “can you surrender your 4th ammendment rights now” and, of course, “Can you feel me breathing down your neck now?”

Better yet, when you call the CIA, you get a machine that sez, “If you want to surrender your 4th ammendment rights, Press One!”


A True Patriot

February 22nd, 2010
10:07 am

Folks, get out and vote on November 2, 2010. Our precious freedoms are being taken away right before our very eyes by a bunch of idiots who don’t care for our country and our way of life. Our government has become too big, our taxes are too high and our elected leaders are there for one thing and one thing only… enrich themselves. Lets put a stop to it, please.


February 22nd, 2010
10:17 am

Complain, complain, complain, that’s all I hear on this one. There is a court system. If someone feels this is unconstitutional stop complaining and file a law suit. Should go all the way to the Supreme Court which is the place that determines whether this sort of thing is unconstitutional or not. The judge and jury of public opinion is the venue to yell and scream, the court (or Court) is the place where these things should get decided.


February 22nd, 2010
10:37 am

I didn’t here anyone protesting when the Patriot Act was passed. Our civil liberties started going down the toilet in the name of national security 9 years ago.


February 22nd, 2010
10:38 am

The same Supereme Court that rules a Private Company has imminent domain over your property and whose judges were appointed by the same bad Politicians that made the law in the first place?

bank walker

February 22nd, 2010
10:43 am

This country needs a cleansing, and it is well underway. The people must take back our country! Rep. and Dems alike are against us and need to be held accountable, because if you aren’t with us you are against us.


February 22nd, 2010
10:51 am

Gambs – many people protested elements of the Patriot Act when it was passed – the reason you don’t “here” anyone protesting now is because it was passed many years ago and that is not the topic of this blog. Are you really that dense?

Swede Atlanta

February 22nd, 2010
10:54 am

Despite my opposition to government’s tracking us through our cell phones and other wireless devices, I’m not sure there is much of an argument against it.

It is perfectly legal for them to stake you out and physically follow you as you leave your home, go to work, etc. They can put infra-red cameras outside your home/place of work to look for signs of marijuna cultivation. They can and do listen to every conversation you have. I don’t believe for a minute they limit this to when one party is outside the U.S. and is a target.

So if they are already listening in on your cell calls, can physically follow you anywhere you go, what is the difference with tracking you electronically?

Once we gave government these sweeping powers during the aftermath of 9-11, it is foolish to think that any administration isn’t going to use them. Power corrupts. So advocates of the sweeping legislation passed under the Patriot Act have brought this upon us.


February 22nd, 2010
10:54 am

If the government wants to tap cellphones, then the government should supply those tapped cellphones free of charge; along with free cellphone service. Consumers could exempt themselves from the tapping by continuing to purchase private cellphones and service.


February 22nd, 2010
11:04 am


February 22nd, 2010
11:21 am

Here is the scary truth about cell phones!


February 22nd, 2010
11:30 am

Not that I agree with this at all, but…. a simple solution is to simply turn off your cell phone. No one can track you if it is not on.

By the way – this isn’t “tapping” at all. It is using GPS to locate the position of the phone. They cannot hear the ocnversation – that would be “tapping.”

Locating someone by means of their cell phone has been used a lot recently. When someone is lost or is trapped in a snow storm, they are recused often because they can use the cell phone signal to track where they are located. Should this also be illegal use? Did the lost person give permission?

Thieves have been caught through this process. They steal someone’s phone and use it…. bingo – they are caught through the tracking process. Should this be illegal?

Many issues, many questions. Many hard opinions without all of the facts.

Acworth's #1 Pimp & Meth Dealer

February 22nd, 2010
11:32 am


If you really need to do dirt, buy a prepaid cell phone and switch it out once a week. They never know who owns the phone. If the Feds do catch up to you, you’ve got a new line anyway.

It’s also great to throw my wife off the trail of my 6 mistresses. I’m just saying…


February 22nd, 2010
11:37 am

Is this funny! As I ws reding this adn scrolling down, there is an ad from sony-Ericcson for a free cell phones. Free?! It ain’t free(dom) when they make you sign up for two years and want to keep track of your every movement.


February 22nd, 2010
11:38 am

Headline: “Obama tops Bush at ducking reporters; No formal press conference in 215 days…”

Hummmm …………………….


February 22nd, 2010
12:00 pm

Funny, I haven’t seen that headline in the AJC yet. I guess they’re covering other “doo” in dixie!

Whacks Eloquent

February 22nd, 2010
12:02 pm

Road Scholar @ 8:57

“How do you think they know what to post on the Interstate overhead signs as to time of travel between two locations?”

Actually, they have these nifty little sensors posted every 100 ft or so, mostly on the lightpoles in the medians. Positioning ability with standard cell phones is not accurate enough to give a reliable speed unless the phone has GPS. Many of them do now of course, and for what it’s worth I do remember seeing the DOT asking about being able to use cell phone data. But it isn’t how they get the speed info they post…


February 22nd, 2010
12:21 pm

When you make all these laws please apply them locally! There are communities who have to live under the laws that were intended to correct that horrible place called Atlanta and not my cozy little town. Do not make state laws that apply to a specific city just make city ordinances.

Whacks Eloquent

February 22nd, 2010
12:24 pm

William, I am confused. What part of cell phone tracking is limited to just cities? It sounds like what Mr. Barr is referring to would be access to anyone’s location, anywhere, anytime. How is that regionally based?


February 22nd, 2010
12:41 pm

First, bad guys don’t use cell phones to make drug deals. Citizens who engage in consenual transactions in which nobody is a victim. The government has chosen to regard this transaction as illegal and prosecute them. If you were really a libertarian you would not have included them in your list.

I have not read the entire Patriot Act (but then I know you didn’t either before you voted FOR it), but I am sure that it paved the way for government doing anything it damn well pleases regarding wiretapping, cell phone conversation monitoring, GPS tracking of cell phones and the like.

Us REAL libertarians tried to warn you not to give any president that kind of power, but you were all too wrapped up in the flag to care about the constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Too late to complain now Bob. You have made our bed now we must all sleep in it.

Hillbilly Deluxe

February 22nd, 2010
1:35 pm

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

John K

February 22nd, 2010
1:51 pm

Bob, would you be ok with tracking cell phones of Wiccan soldiers?


February 22nd, 2010
2:05 pm

Two thoughts. Bob is right on this one as he usually is on 4th Amendment issues.

Have any of you lived under an authoritarian dictatorship?

My wife, and her family has, although only as a child to age five. She still has her “papers” she had to carry to prove who she was. The papers were issued when she was born and “renewed” annually. It was what we call a “felony” to be caught without your “papers”. A five year girl old could be thrown in jail because she did not have her papers on her person.

Yeah, my father in law, a GT graduate, fled the country with his family when my wife was five. He was in trouble for some anti-government activity.

And some of you folks want to give the US government such power & authority because you are afraid a terrorist might attack.

“Those who willingly give up their liberties in the name of security, deserve neither.”


February 22nd, 2010
6:24 pm

We have got to stop sacrificing our liberties in the name of safety. Ben Franklin said perfectly. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 22nd, 2010
7:16 pm

I have several older cell phones, pre gps, and I will keep on using them, thumbing my nose at uncle stupid and his minions. The Fat Bald and Ignorant can F-Off.

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 22nd, 2010
7:19 pm

Nuthing says FREEDOM like an AK-47 on full auto, that is why the limp dicks made them illegal.

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 22nd, 2010
7:25 pm

Just for the fun of it, we should all down load PGF, Pretty Good Privacy, and encryption program for our email. We should then send all of our email in encrypted format, thus massively increasing the burden on the NSA as they monitor all emails. They will have to break each and every one of our Private encryption keys. After a few months, we can just generate a new encryption code pair, and nsa has gotta start all over again. What fun…


February 22nd, 2010
9:28 pm

We could always go back to the land-line–which was all that was available as late as c. 1990. Life was pretty good then without all this techno-throw-up.

She said/She said

February 22nd, 2010
9:37 pm



February 23rd, 2010
4:17 am

I love the blithering idiots who lack the ability to comprehend the written word, Mr Barr CLEARLY states in this piece, “In making this argument, the Obama Administration mimics the position taken by its predecessor.”

It’s not a Democrat or a Republican issue, it’s an idiot politician issue. Unfortunately we a vast majority of our elected officials fit into that category, probably about 98%. Mr. Barr was no better when he was in office. I still remember his posturing about that idiot radio show on 96Rock, Love Phones……………

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 23rd, 2010
8:09 am

When we all have bar codes burned onto our forearm, we will know that we gave the scare mongers in Washington too much power. I sure hope people have hidden enough AK47’s to save our barcoded butts.

John Brown

February 23rd, 2010
8:11 am

O Tempora, O Mores!!!!!

The Tar and Feathers Party

February 23rd, 2010
8:27 am

Then we can put the AK47 on our new National flag….